Pastor: “He should have killed you. At least you’d have died a virgin.”

a girl  silhouette behind a  transparent  paper

I got this letter in:

Hi, John.

I became acquainted with your writing a couple of months ago and love it. I so wish I could travel back in time and hear your voice in my head while I was growing up, instead of the hard-core fundy “you’re going to hell” soundtrack of my early life.

I’ve read with great interest some of the things you’ve written about how the church treats victims of sexual violence. I just had to share a bit of my story around exactly that issue.

When I was 16 years old, I was raped at knife-point by a stranger. Not having a clue how to handle it, I decided to confide first of all in my pastor. While I was literally still bleeding from the attack, he told me (and I quote) “It’s too bad that you didn’t force him to kill you instead. That way you could have at least died a virgin.” That was the sum total of his “advice” to me—not, “Oh, you should go to the police,” or “Oh, I’m so sorry that happened to you,” or anything that might have been even remotely helpful anywhere on this planet.

After that reaction, I decided not to tell anyone else—including my parents or the police—ever. It wasn’t until six years later, after I had attempted suicide and was hospitalized for severe depression, that the truth came out. And then, only because I saw my rapist’s wedding photo and announcement in our local paper and freaked out a bit. (Well, okay, a lot.) It took me a long time, a ton of therapy, and no small measure of the grace of God to get past this exhibit of what a pastor-friend calls the “cult of virginity.”

God calls us to be sooooo much more than what happens with (or to) our genitals.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for being a voice of reason and compassion in that regard!! To this day, almost 30 years later, I harbor more anger toward that “pastor” than I do toward the man who raped me. At least the rapist wasn’t pretending to represent God. The damage the rapist did to my body and my psyche was not insignificant; but the soul-damage done by this “man of God” nearly killed my faith.

And Jesus wept.

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About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is the executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. Don't forget to sign up for his mucho-awesome newsletter.

  • JenellYB

    John, I really, truly wish I could believe, agree with you, that there is hope such a person, pastor or otherwise, that has such a cruel heart and abusive personality, “can change,” but I don’t, and can’t. A horrible, dirty little truth that will never be accepted within our society, let alone within the church. So many women have and still do live with stories of unspeakable horror of sexual and spiritual abuse they can never tell, simply because no one would believe them, believe it even possible they went through what they did, or that whomever did it could have done something so horrible to another human being. I’ve known of, been entrusted with by other women, some stories of such horrors that I can only be in awe of the strength it has taken for them to go on to any kind of reasonably normal lives. Young women, some really only children, forced to bear blame and shame for sexual abuse, even more commonly than might ever be imagined, forced into marriage to and bearing the children of their rapists, while bearing as well the scarlet letter of having played the harlot.

  • http://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/ jesuswithoutbaggage

    “I decided to confide first of all in my pastor. While I was literally still bleeding from the attack, he told me (and I quote) ‘It’s too bad that you didn’t force him to kill you instead. That way you could have at least died a virgin.’ ”
    This is absolutely despicable! Contrast with Jesus’ response to the woman caught in adultery.

  • Katie Rucker

    It’s things like this that made me too afraid to ever tell anyone about my abuse. Not necessarily the fact that it was a pastor, because at the time I was abused I was not religious, but just the fact that a HUMAN BEING could make such a judgement and decide that you’re trash, a liar, attention seeking, or whatever goes through their minds, made me too afraid to say anything. So I continued to suffer as I had to continue facing the one who abused me until the day he died of natural causes. The thing that hurt me more than anything was that he would act like nothing ever happened. I knew nobody would believe me.

  • Jerry Kadavi

    She was STILL a virgin AFTER the rape, IMO. It’s not like she VOLUNTARILY had sex for the first time…it’s all about INTENT. Who cares about whether or not a little piece of skin is torn? What should matter is the trauma that the rape victim went through & then helping her get through it. This “pastor” is an insensitive JERKOFF who needs to be de-ordained!!

  • Daniel Giaimo

    I don’t understand where the sexist undertone of the attack on this pastor is coming from. Certainly he is an asshole that shouldn’t be in the pulpit, but why are you assuming that the attitude that “dying is better than loss of virginity” has anything to do with being a woman? In the religious group I grew up in, if anything it was the men who were treated more harshly, and were more likely to be excommunicated for losing their virginity outside of marriage.

    • http://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/ jesuswithoutbaggage

      That is very interesting, but I have never heard that attitude before.

  • laurenleachsteffens

    Daniel, “virginity” is considered something that females have and males don’t in this society. Your religious group seems extremely unusual, as most religious groups in the US don’t even recognize male “virginity”. (What religious group is it? I want to do more research on this because it is SO rare.

    • http://bramboniusinenglish.wordpress.com Brambonius

      As a non-American evangelical I have never heard of a concept of ‘female only’ virginity or not recognising male virginity, and neither have I ever heard (even in the most extreme ‘true love waits’ talk)) that female virginity would be more important than male. All purity talk about premarital sex I’ve ever encountered was about both sexes in a symmetrical way.

      • Dallas Jenkins

        Of course you haven’t, Brambonius, because it probably doesn’t even exist. But articles like these find the extreme minority (assuming the quote is true) and then present a case that this might be somewhat common. I’ve been part of, connected to, or indirectly involved with the fundamentalist evangelical world since I was born, and I’ve never heard ONE comment from anyone even implying that female virginity is more important or of more note than male virginity. Never heard ONCE that women are inferior to men. Never heard ONCE that a rape victim is now “damaged goods” and that it would have been better for her to die. And anyone who would say such a ridiculous thing would have been told to shut the hell up.

        • AtalantaBethulia

          Re: “(assuming the quote is true)”

          Is the same kind of “doubting the victim” about which articles like this are calling out as the antithesis of sound pastoral care.

          Re: “I’ve been part of, connected to, or indirectly involved with the fundamentalist evangelical world since I was born, and I’ve never heard ONE comment from anyone even implying that female virginity is more important or of more note than male virginity. Never heard ONCE that women are inferior to men. Never heard ONCE that a rape victim is now “damaged goods”…”

          Then you just aren’t paying attention. Plus you are a man who seems to be invested in the Fundamentalist/Evangelical worldview… so it stands to reason you don’t see things the same way as a woman would or those who see problems in Patriarchal, Authoritarian structures.

          • Dallas Jenkins

            Did I doubt the victim? I said, “assuming the quote is true,” I didn’t say it wasn’t. However, there’s a difference between doubting whether or not she was raped (of course I didn’t doubt that) and doubting whether or not someone said something that has never been heard or implied by anyone by any other pastor ever. And I didn’t even say I doubted it, I’m simply saying that to make a public case against a comment that may or may not be true as if it reflects some sort of trend or commonly held belief, and to also make a connection to an actual commonly held belief that doesn’t exist, is reckless.

          • AtalantaBethulia

            Dallas, Is it fair to say that there are segments of the Church who do a miserable job of supporting sexual abuse survivors and bringing their perpetrators to justice? and that there even appears to be a pattern of complicit cover up?

            And that Church leaders and Church people need to enact a sea change of reform on the matter of handling sexual abuse?

          • Dallas Jenkins

            There are segments everywhere that do crappy things, but no, other than the Catholic Church, of which I am not at all a part, I see zero pattern of cover up or avoiding this problem. In the evangelical community (different from the Catholic church), I’ve seen nothing but extreme support and passionate defense of sexual abuse victims.

          • AtalantaBethulia

            Re: “no, other than the Catholic Church, of which I am not at all a part, I see zero pattern of cover up or avoiding this problem.”

            You’re telling me you haven’t heard of Sovereign Grace Ministries?

            Or Jack Schapp and Hyles Anderson?

            Or Chuck Phelps and Tina Anderson?

            Bob Jones University is currently under review by GRACE for their alleged mishandling of sexual abuse and victims.

            Or here’s a headline from today: http://www.douglascountysentinel.com/news/local/article_97f6092e-4105-11e3-b7f2-001a4bcf6878.html

            Then I suggest you do some more research into sexual abuse in the Protestant Church – particularly independent ones – across America and look into the work of organizations like Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (G.R.A.C.E) and Boz Tchividjian.

            And here’s my contribution to speaking my truth to power. Those that have ears let them hear.

            http://leap-of-fate.com/2011/05/25/this-ones-for-the-girls/

            The question is whether you are too invested in maintaining your worldview or if you are willing to listen to victims and what they have suffered at the hands of the Church with a servant leader’s heart who is willing to do what it takes to be part of the solution.

          • http://thethreews.wordpress.com/ Ken Leonard

            Yes, Dallas. You expressed doubt for the victim. FYI, “assuming the quote is true” is a pretty-backhanded comment. While it says that you’re assuming that, it implies otherwise.

    • Daniel Giaimo

      The group is Jehovah’s Witnesses, but I’ve seen the same attitude in others.

    • AtalantaBethulia

      Lauren,

      It seems your claim of: ‘most religious groups in the US don’t even recognize male “virginity”‘ seems to be what is rare. Upon what do you base your assertion?

  • http://baldscientist.wordpress.com/ O.R. Pagan

    Powerful post and right on target… Thanks.

  • Dallas Jenkins

    To the .0000001% of people who might agree with the Pastor who made this comment, this article will be relevant.

    The notion that agreeing with Paul’s exhortation for wives to submit to their husbands while husbands love their wives like Christ loves the church and GAVE HIS LIFE FOR IT is a short and easy path to an evil comment like that is so ludicrous it’s not to be taken seriously. If it’s such an easy path, then why aren’t comments like that made more often when hundreds of thousands of pastors over the last 25 years have preached the submission passage?

    Not to mention that no reasonable pastor who preaches the submission passage thinks that women are “inferior” to men. I’ve never once heard any pastor of note, other than some wacko with a tiny congregation off the beaten path, ever say that. Ever.

    • AtalantaBethulia

      Re: “no reasonable pastor who preaches the submission passage thinks that women are “inferior” to men. I’ve never once heard…”

      Thinking and saying are two different things. Some things need not be said to be self-evident. Patriarchal societies are not egalitarian.

      Ever heard: Adam’s Rib + Satan’s Fib = Women’s Lib?

      Or the Strange Woman Doctrine?

      Wacko’s still have lots of people who listen to them.

      • Dallas Jenkins

        So you know what people are thinking?

        I believe in Paul’s scripture on submission. I am not egalitarian. Doesn’t mean “inferior.” No Christian would believe that because to believe that would mean that they believe God created something lower in quality, and no Christian would believe that.

        • AtalantaBethulia

          What passes as official doctrine belies what passes in Fundamentalist culture as unofficial doctrine and tone.

          If you can’t see how Patriarchal Authoritarian structures maintain a de facto second class status to women… I can’t make you see what you are invested in not seeing.

          • Daniel Giaimo

            Well, it puts everyone not in the “ruling” class in a second class. It is unbalanced against women, (since they can’t become part of that class), but they are also quite draconian against non “ruling” men. And, in some ways it’s even harder for the men because there is a not-so implicit undertone of “if you’re a man, and you’re not reaching out for these privileges, then what the hell is wrong with you? You must be seriously spiritually deficient”. At least the women got the benefit of the doubt due to the fact that they couldn’t reach out even if they wanted to.

          • Dallas Jenkins

            Somehow we got off the main track, which is that this story attempts to put an evil comment like this into the story of the Christian church in America being negative towards women, when in fact there isn’t a pastor in America who wouldn’t rebuke this man and call his comment pure evil.

          • Don M. Burrows

            The Greek of the submission passage does, in fact, imply “inferiority,” as does any notion of submitting generally (sub = below, which is a perfect cognate of the Greek ὑπό, the prefix of the verb the texts use). They were meant to adhere to imperial domestic ideology, so of course they’re patriarchal, as are attempts to utilize them in a way to keep women in their “proper” places.

          • Dallas Jenkins

            Or maybe you simply don’t know what you’re talking about because you go by your perception of a group you’re not a part of, as opposed to being inside the group itself.

          • AtalantaBethulia

            Dude, I’m sure you meet people all day long who have no idea what they are talking about. But I’m not one of them. I earned my fundamentalist stripes. I’m a card-carrying ex-member of that club. So don’t tell me what I don’t know when I’ve lived it.

        • Susan

          Dallas, you say “I am not egalitarian.” Egalitarian defined: “Affirming, promoting, or characterized by belief in equal political, economic, social, and civil rights for all people.” Not egalitarian defined: “Belief in differing rights.” It is a logical fallacy to say that you don’t believe in equality, but you don’t believe someone is inferior. If your assessment is based, not on individual talents, but on a whole class of people without regard to talent (e.g. gender), then you are making them inferior DE FACTO. You expect me to agree that you have more right to demand I follow you, than I have a right to decline to follow, but feel I’m not inferior? All human hierarchies by definition create inferiors. The biblical images of the kingdom and the New Jerusalem consistently set forth a picture of all such inequalities abolished. We’re called to live that out now, not perpetuate human systems of domination.

          • AtalantaBethulia

            Word.

          • Dallas Jenkins

            “Dallas, you say “I am not egalitarian.””

            I was referring to church structure, I should have clarified, my bad.

            Within the evangelical church, women and men have different roles, but NO ONE believes women are inferior or have lesser rights.

            I “follow” my pastor’s lead in my church, that doesn’t mean I’m inferior. It’s simply structural.

          • AtalantaBethulia

            That extend to the home and a view of society at large.

          • Susan

            I know my Bible better than that. “Paul’s scripture on submission” starts in Ephesians 5. If you really study what Paul was saying in the context of the culture of his day, it was a radical call to equality. The Chapter and Verse demarcations are artificial, and did not exist in the letter as written. The clear start of the whole passage should be the last verse of Ephesians 4, “Submit yourselves, therefore, one to another.” He then goes on to address how that works out with husbands and wives in a way that was radically egalitarian in the context of that culture. In our culture, it gets turned upside down and becomes a means to subjugation.

            Your “following” your pastor is, as you say, simply structural. It is not like what women are told in the evangelical church. To be similar, you would have to understand that your pastor was entitled to more social rights than you, entitled to expect your submission to his social advantages, that you are for a lifetime banned from being a pastor because God didn’t design you for leadership, and this was universally true for all men named Dallas in all churches everywhere, for all time. Then you could claim that you didn’t feel inferior at all, and I might listen.

        • AtalantaBethulia

          Re: “No Christian would believe that because to believe that would mean that they believe God created something lower in quality, and no Christian would believe that.”

          Plenty of Christians in modernity and throughout history have believed that God made “others” inferior: women, children, people of other races, faiths and ethnicities, criminals, the mentally ill, homosexuals. This is how discrimination and injustice is justified.

          • Dallas Jenkins

            “women,”

            “Love your wife as Christ loved the church and give himself up for it.”

            “children,”

            “Have faith like a child.”

            Anyone who believes people of other races are “inferior” (again, in my entire life of being connected to or part of the evangelical movement, I’ve never once heard a pastor or leader even imply that those of other races were inferior), or that the mentally ill are “inferior,” isn’t a Christian.

            In terms of homosexuals, believing that a certain behavior is sin doesn’t mean you think the person committing the sin is “inferior.” All Christians believe we all sin every day.

          • AtalantaBethulia

            Your statement ignores the realities of inequalities that exist in the world that have at times been perpetuated and born from within the Church.

        • http://thethreews.wordpress.com/ Ken Leonard

          Dallas, that’s just plain nonsense. God created lots of things that are lesser in quality. Some land is better than other land. There are plants that are of different uses and quality. Same for animals.

          And historically a whole lot of people have been put down and classified as inferior.

          It’s pretty darned convenient that your non-egalitarian position entitles you to tell women what roles they are and are not allowed to occupy in society, families, and churches. I wonder why someone might think that that’s putting them into an inferior position …

          Just because you say that you’re not belittling anyone doesn’t mean that you’re not. You might just not see it from your self-elevated position.

    • Trena Garrison

      OK, I heard the pastor say, twice (within the last couple of years–within the same message), that women were not only to be submissive, they were to be SUBSERVIENT. That seems like a stronger word than even submissive! I literally left church struggling with tears until I could get outside. Some months later, when he was doing a message outlined with “E” words, the phrase was “Enjoy Your Equal”. I told my husband that I must have just recently gotten a promotion from subservient to equal. Never have been able to figure this out!!

  • Ree

    Will Christians please start realizing that clergy DO NOT SPEAK FOR GOD?

  • Ree

    I’ve had a preacher tell me I was going to hell because I considered reading a “wrong” version of the bible. My church read the King Jame’s Version and I had asked what so so different about the Catholic bible that they were two different versions. Seriously?

  • Ree

    I’m offended by religious people who insist that God is as misogynist, racist, classist, xenophobic, and homophobic as they are.

  • Jennifer L Smith-Clark

    I am so happy to be an atheist right now. Scratch that I am happy to be an atheist everyday.


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